Male mental health around Birth
Trigger warning: Postpartum Depression, birth
The first thing you might be asking is why this is something that the Full Circle Birth Collective (FCBC), any Doula, or anyone surrounding birth might be concentrating on. Isn’t it enough that we live in a patriarchal society, and that men’s needs are primary in all things, except maybe birth? Shouldn’t we then be looking at what the birthing partners actually need, in terms of physical, mental and emotional supports?
I’ll be the first to say that post partum depression, and the mental health struggles that birthing partners go through before, during and after birth are very significant, very important, and should be stressed. My own experience with my former partner around the birth of our two children, and her struggles with post partum affected all of us in different ways, and we need to do more around supporting birthing partners through this very difficult time in their lives. Most of the literature that is out there, and a lot of the personal and private stories I have heard do emphasize that we need to concentrate on how to care for birthing partners more effectively, both from their support people and the medical institution as a whole, especially as it pertains to people of colour. That being said, something that has come out more recently, and is being looked at a little more closely, is the impact on the non-birthing partners through the birthing process, and this is the focus of the rest of this blog post.
As men take on more of a role in parenting, we are seeing a rise in symptoms in Dad’s that resemble post-partum depression (Ross), and that this is impacting how they relate to their children, and how they are coping with the emotions (CBC News; Associated Press·). I’d add to this from my own history, where I suffered from post-partum depression with both of my children. With my first, after a labour of 65 hours, the insane sleep deprivation, concern for my wife’s health and lack of support structures for myself or my family, I suffered from classic symptoms, such as the depressed mood, wild mood swings, inability to connect with my child, withdrawal from family and friends, and reduced interest and pleasure in activities I used to enjoy, to name a few. With my second child, we enlisted the services of my mentor and head of FCBC, Sonya, who was able to help me be more present during the birth, and feel supported in the months that came afterwards, way beyond the scope of her contract. Even then, I had the symptoms of post-partum depression, although to a lesser degree, which I attribute to my partner’s support, the seeking of professional counselling and guidance, and also to Sonya herself.
You don’t have that same place where you can talk to someone who you know, who may have gone through exactly what you did, and say: “I felt really terrible today”, or that “my child wouldn’t go to sleep, and I was so exhausted, and I felt like just shaking that child, even though I didn’t”.
So the question is what do we do now that we know that this might be a thing. The first thing to do if you see a Dad who is struggling, is to support that person and try to get them some help. That can look like suggesting that they talk to someone, whether that be a clinical counsellor, a therapist, or a registered psychologist. If they don’t want the help, whether it be a stigma thing, or not, you can get them to talk to someone they know, or maybe someone they don’t (such as myself), who can then act as a bridge to get them help from a more qualified professional.
Aly Sumar is a Daddy-Doula in Training in Edmonton, Alberta, supporting men and non-birthing partners in the key life moments such as birth, with clients stretching all over Canada.
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